Developers are Specialists in Building Foundations

In the age of software, developers are a hot commodity. It’s time the business world start treating them like the specialists they are.

For most people, software development is something they pay little attention to. Most people open an app, a web browser, a program or game and know what they want to do with it, but they have no idea how it actually works. They don’t think about it, they don’t care. All they want to know about an app is if it does what they need it to do. And that’s the way it should be. People shouldn’t have to worry about how taking a photo of a check gets money into their bank accounts, or how their tweets can reach around the world in seconds.

But there’s a class of people who spend their work hours thinking of little else. They obsess over the details that keep the modern world running. These folks are developers – people who design, code and secure the world of software. Those developers are not a dime a dozen, especially when it comes to sensitive material or financial data.  So why are devs so often seen as menial employees?

Think about it. The foundation of your business is in software development. These are the people who ensure that your business’ code is stable, secure and functional. They are the ones who patch security vulnerabilities and create the new features and products you want to offer your customers. These are your bread-and-butter employees. Without the foundation, everything falls apart.

Good developers are hard to come by. The dev job market shows there’s about one dev for every five open positions. Also, turnover is about 30-40%, industry-wide, with inadequate training and burn out being the leading factors devs quit over.

What developers do, what security professionals do, is highly specialized. The complexities of software development can oftentimes make the operation of a nuclear power plant look straightforward. Much like doctors and lawyers, developers must be viewed as what they are: a hot commodity. They are not easily replaced or interchangeable.

Industry-wide, devs get a lot of flak for their work. Timelines and budgets are always wrong (because estimates are just that, an estimate) and business leaders often ask devs to do things they don’t agree with. Like skimping on security in order to get a product out. This is why the average length of time a developer spends at a job is two years – there is plenty of work to do out there, plenty of companies willing to pay developers more than the next person. But if you’re forcing them to make concessions they don’t like, expect your turnover rate to increase.

Recently, we have seen a trend towards developers taking control of the conversation, to say that they won’t accept certain practices, or be held to unrealistic deadlines. They know they can find work elsewhere, so if they aren’t getting job fulfillment or they are increasingly stressed at their job, they know they can find another one pretty quickly. If they aren’t treated properly, that can also cause turnover. If they aren’t paid enough, they’ll leave. If they don’t agree with the direction of the company, they’ll look elsewhere. 

It’s not just about the money because there are plenty of companies out there who will pay. Humans have this ingrained need to be productive, to do something that makes a difference and means something. But when you start asking people to deviate from their own moral and ethical compass, you affect their mental health in a negative way. They have lost respect for you, which ultimately will lead them to find a new job.

It’s times the business world starts seeing software developers for what they really are: Specialists. They possess the hard skills that are fundamental and necessary to bring products to market and ensure our ever-increasing digital lives continue to function. They are professionally more akin to lawyers and doctors in that very few people who work with them can “check” or verify their work. It takes a high-level developer to truly recognize another high-level developer. If business leaders and corporate hiring managers can warm up to this fundamental shift in how they engage with software developers professionally, we would see a drastic reduction in turnover among devs. Software development would no longer be a race to the bottom, where companies get burned by blackbox agencies, and offshore firms who don’t understand what they have been given to build.  Every business needs a digital presence. It is often the first and sometimes only interaction your customer has with your business. The people who build that experience for you matter because what they do matters to your customers.

Developers are starting to realize that they have more control and are making their voices heard. They are the captain of a ship which has been commissioned to complete a task. They are your peers, your colleagues. They are not peons and they are not beneath you. Developers should be respected and treated as valued members of your team. Otherwise, what reason do they have to stay?

It’s time for the business world to better understand the world of development. It’s complicated, complex, intricate, it has layers and there are many pieces to complete a functional, stable and secure product. Devs, you’re in the spotlight. It’s time to show the world how much faster we can further innovations when the people who design them are given what they need: Time, money, respect and lots of coffee.

About the Author

Pieter VanIperen, Managing Partner of PWV Consultants, leads a boutique group of industry leaders and influencers from the digital tech, security and design industries that acts as trusted technical partners for many Fortune 500 companies, high-visibility startups, universities, defense agencies, and NGOs. He is a 20-year software engineering veteran, who founded or co-founder several companies. He acts as a trusted advisor and mentor to numerous early stage startups, and has held the titles of software and software security executive, consultant and professor. His expert consulting and advisory work spans several industries in finance, media, medical tech, and defense contracting. Has also authored the highly influential precursor HAZL (jADE) programming language.

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